Wake-Up Call: Dark Horses And Disappointments
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Any dark horse players you see having a big year? Any front runners having a down year? -Frank H.
I’m very curious to see how Jordan Hicks plays this season. I don’t think he’ll play poorly, but I could see him disappointing people after his impressive six-game stretch last season when he started after Kiko Alonso went down during Week 2. I expect him to be a good linebacker for the Eagles long term, but he has very little experience and will have more on his shoulders as the guy who will register a huge number of snaps as the MIKE in Jim Schwartz’s 4-3.
Among the six Eagles linebackers who registered more than 75 plays in coverage last season, Hicks ranked first in passer rating allowed, per Pro Football Focus. He was credited with giving up just one touchdown, and he led all of Philadelphia’s linebackers with two interceptions.
However, Hicks didn’t really have the small setbacks that go along with a typical rookie season, which may be because he didn’t play much. In 2015, Hicks participated in just 37 percent of the defense’s snaps. He will make some more impressive plays this year, but consistency may elude him early on as he adjusts to being the full-time starter week in and week out in his second NFL season.
Two of my candidates for dark horse players, though, if you can consider them such, are Mychal Kendricks and Nigel Bradham. Per PFF, Kendricks recorded the worst coverage grade among the Eagles linebackers last season. He was targeted the most (42) and allowed the most receptions (33), and while he did play the most snaps in coverage (289), he also allowed five touchdowns, which is at least two more than every other linebacker.
Schwartz has discussed how he wants his linebackers to be versatile, but I think he’ll find Bradham is the linebacker he wants covering tight ends, which could help Kendricks. Bradham will benefit this year from his experience under Schwartz in Buffalo in 2014, as will Leodis McKelvin, who could surprise a lot of people and has stood out so far to media and teammates. The scheme also seems to fit Kendricks well, which is why I see him having a bit of a rebound year.
Vinny Curry isn’t a dark horse, but I’m excited to see what he does with more snaps. His playing time may jump more than anyone else’s from last year to this year, as he was on the field for only 35 percent of the defense’s snaps in 2015. It’s been impressive how quickly he constantly gets off the ball in OTAs, and among the eight Eagles who rushed the passer on more than 75 plays last season, Curry ranked first in the percentage of snaps he pressured the quarterback, per PFF.
I think of Zach Ertz similarly. He accumulated 30 receptions in the last three games in 2015, setting a team record for the most catches over a three-game span. He also racked up 450 yards over the final four games, joining Jimmy Graham as the only NFL tight ends with at least 450 yards over a four-game span since 2013. I expect Ertz to be a key focal point of the offense, although whomever is throwing him the ball will have to hold up their end of the bargain.
As for a true dark horse player, I’ll throw out Chris Givens. Givens is a deep threat, but most importantly, he can catch. While that may seem basic (it is), that’s not something the Eagles receivers have done very well in the three OTAs open to the media. It’s early, so sweeping judgments should not be made, but Givens could find a role at receiver if his teammates continue to drop the ball.
WHAT YOU MISSED
“It’s almost morphed into a little more spread.” Sam Bradford breaks down Doug Pederson’s offense.
Practice Observations: A small scuffle, Chase Daniel yelling at Bradford and more.
Walter Thurmond is reportedly retiring, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Why you shouldn’t fear the Wide-9, despite the Eagles’ disastrous 2012 campaign using it.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
The Eagles’ quarterbacks couldn’t be getting along much better than they currently are, reports Les Bowen of the Daily News.
NEAR THE TOP of the list of spectacular things we haven’t seen yet has to be the meeting room for the Eagles’ quarterbacks.
“We have a really good room,” Sam Bradford said Tuesday.
“We’ve got an awesome quarterback room,” Carson Wentz said, minutes later from behind the same NovaCare auditorium lectern.
“I’ve been a part of some pretty good quarterback rooms . . . and I feel like this one is going to be a really good one,” Chase Daniel told reporters.
An anonymous insider confirmed both accounts. “It’s Sistine Chapelesque,” the source said, “with granite countertops, ceramic tile, crystal chandeliers that double as ceiling fans. The wainscoting alone has moved to tears the most hardbitten of football lifers.”
CSN Philly’s Dave Zangaro offers his observations from yesterday’s practice.
3. We saw a little trickery from Doug Pederson’s offense on Tuesday against no defense. First, Chase Daniel threw a lateral screen to Josh Huff, who threw down the right to Smallwood. Then, Carson Wentz threw a lateral pass to Nelson Agholor and then Wentz ran a route down the left sideline, but Agholor overthrew him.
Maybe the trick plays are just way to keep practice lighter, but it might also mean the offense is moving along nicely and installing more and more of the playbook. It’s a good sign.
4. Wentz was up and down on Tuesday, but his best completion came on a deep pass down the right sideline to wideout Xavier Rush (who is a candidate for best name on the team). Rush wrestled the ball away from corner C.J. Smith, who should know Wentz pretty well. The two played together at North Dakota State.
Meanwhile, Sam Bradford had a shaky day, throwing several balls that could have been picked off.
Tim takes a closer look at Nelson Agholor.